I use one variation on the “management intensive grazing” or MIG method, where I fence the sheep into small, frequently moved paddocks. This requires the sheep to eat everything in the paddock, not pick and choose the best plants and let the less palatable species grow unchecked. The method allows graze areas to rest, for best recovery of the sward. It also cuts down on parasite loads, since the sheep are gone by the time worm eggs have hatched.

MIG allows a rancher to harvest more total volume of forage than “set-stocking” or leaving animals in a large pasture for months at a time. And, it develops the quality of the pasture over time, rather than diminishes it. But there is some overhead in moving the animals every few days. I have gotten really fast at rotating their pasture. Here’s the method I’ve learned to use to maximize efficiency of my movements.

I happen to use Electronet, and I have four lengths of it, which are each about 160’ long. I shape them into long, skinny rectangles, though I often call them “squares” just because it’s easier to say. I set up the sheep on one end of the pasture in a square that looks like this, where each length of Electronet has its own color in the diagram. The black blocks indicate connection points of the Electronet, and an extra step-in post goes here to help hold the fencing taut. The blue ovals represent 50-gallon water troughs- there is one inside the fence for the sheep, and one outside for the dogs. More on that later.

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Right now I have forty adult sheep, and 45 young lambs and they are all together. This time of year, they can eat and trample a square in two days. In late summer when the grass is longer, and when I have separated out lambs for weaning into a different pasture, sometimes I can get a couple more days out of a square. When it’s time to move the square, I head down to the pasture with my trusty Border Collie, Maggie, and start the task of “flipping” the square.

On my way down, I turn the water on at a valve we have near the house. We use long lengths of hose, and they tend to be leaky, so I only run them when I’m filling the water tanks. When I get to the pasture, the first thing I do is have Maggie push the sheep into the far end of the square, then I tell her to lie down and stay. Most of the time, she does, and she’ll cover if they try to squeeze by her, even when I’m not paying attention. This is nice, it frees me up to focus on moving the fence quickly. It’s one advantage to having a “sticky” border collie- she loves to sit at the edge of the flight zone and stare. Smile

I start by flipping the short end of the fence, represented by the green dashed line. This tells me where the water troughs should go, and I move them next, so they have time to fill while I’m working. Then I can shut off the water while I’m walking back up to the house, and no wasted steps. If I forget to turn the valve on as I’m headed down, I kick myself, because that’ll cost me ten minutes in walking back to get it going, and efficiency of motion is key if you do this all the time. So, the beginning looks like this:

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You may notice that the water tanks are positioned such that the next time I move the square, I will not have to move them again- I’m set up so that there is water inside and outside the square now, and there will be on the next rotation as well. So I only have to move the tanks every other rotation. I still turn the water on every time, to top them off.

Next, while Maggie is still holding the sheep in the corner, I pick up the red section of fence and re-set it to create a new corner, like this:

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Now, it’s time to move the sheep into this corner. I open up the blue/green fence like a “switch.” The way you open up a fence or gate to move a mob of herd animals is important. You want the opening to encourage them to flow where you want them to go, and stop them where you don’t want them to go. I picture their movement like water- you want gentle curves in the direction of flow, and hard angles in the undesired direction. Making sheep curve around hard angles is difficult, especially when there is pressure from a dog. So, the keyhole opening looks like this:

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Notice where I position both myself and the dog. Normally when moving animals, you send the dog around to the 12:00 position opposite of where you stand. But in this case, the sheep already want to go to the new grass (and they know the drill). So, I don’t need Maggie back behind them, or she’ll just encourage them to rush and they can sometimes blow past the new square out into the open. Instead, I want her to help me block them from accidentally shooting past the opening, which the inexperienced lambs will tend to want to do, as they move laterally with the herd.

Once the group is through the opening, I send Maggie through and lie her down behind them, and I close up the opening. She can hold them in the new square while I’m finishing its other sides. I move the purple length to close up the new rectangle, like this:

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This means for every rotation, I’m only moving two of the four lengths of fencing. The blue and green sections stay put this time, and will be the basis for the move two days later.

Tanglemeister

There are some tricks to moving Electronet efficiently. As I pick up the fence posts with my right hand, I gather the posts on my left hand, being careful not to let the wires entangle in my fingers (otherwise I won’t be able to fit all the posts in my small hand). It’s easiest to move Electronet when you don’t have to set it down or roll it up; the more manhandling you do, the more it tangles, and the more fiddling it takes to re-set. So, best to gather up one section, and walk immediately to where it needs to go, and put it back out with no double-handling. Premier recommends walking and dropping the posts, then walking back to put them in the ground. But this is wasted motion; it’s best if you can master feeding them right out of your hand and setting them in one pass.

I have gotten good at setting them as I walk. I walk backwards, trampling the grass as I go, and drag the bundle of fencing in front of me, which further crushes the grass. Then I can set the posts in that trampled line, and get by putting it down even in very long grass. Premier recommends driving a vehicle there to make the “trampled” line, but this is way too much hassle. To make this procedure sustainable, it has to be as simple as possible.

Trajectories

Making straight lines is important. If the fence line meanders, it’s hard to pull it taut. And, if the fence is saggy, the sheep are more likely to find ways to duck under it or jump over it. To make sure I’m walking straight, I pick an object near to me on the horizon, like a perimeter fence post, and line it up with something far away on the horizon, like a tree on a neighboring property. I keep those two things lined up in my sight, and they will help me walk a straight line.

If I do end up walking a little crooked, or not perfectly perpendicular to the corner, I’ll end up with some slack in the netting somewhere. This has to be corrected-for in one of the corners of the fence, making it “wing out” as much as is necessary to keep the fencing taut. So, in the case of the last, purple, section of fence in the diagrams above, I set the posts starting at its junction to the red fence, so that I can make adjustments to its final corner if need be. If I started setting those posts near the blue junction, and found when I got to the red junction I had too little or too  much fence left over, I’d have to re-do the purple section. And re-doing is a time waster.

Helpers

MaggieI have realized over time that this is not a two-man job. You need to set one section of fence before you know where the next one goes. So, two people can’t be doing it at the same time, or they’ll end up with ends of fence which don’t meet.

The job goes much more easily with a dog; or a second person could do the job of the border collie. Sometimes I do it without Maggie, when I’m feeling lazy and don’t want to manage her or dry her off afterwards, though usually I regret it. In the fall when all the sheep are trained to the routine, including the lambs, sometimes I can get by with pushing them into the new corner myself, and getting the rest of the fence set up quickly before they drift. But often I either lose them to the “old” pasture they’ve already grazed, or they spread out too quickly into the new pasture and move beyond  my fencing point. Then I find myself chasing them, and that doesn’t work very well. I end up calling up to the house from my cell phone to ask Kirk to send Maggie down to help me. So, most of the time I figure, just bring the dog. She just makes the job go so much more quickly and efficiently.

Finishing Up

The last steps for me are to move the mineral feeder, and now my new creep feeder/milk bucket holder. This is a good time to test the voltage on the newly-set fence, and I try to do this consistently, though I often forget or don’t have time. I put the solar fence charger at one of the new connection points, turn it on, and I’m done for the evening. The whole procedure takes me about fifteen minutes. When the whole shebang needs to be moved to another pasture, it’s longer, more like an hour. Then, I have to use the ATV to move all the stuff because it’s a long walk and would take too long making a dozen or so trips. But just “flipping” the square is quite easy and fast, and well worth the time investment for the gains in pasture production and quality.

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